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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Silent Fiorentina Poised to Display Killer's Touch

FLORENCE, Italy -- Fiorentina, which has been silent in the Italian league for most of the season, should display the killer touch against Portugal's Benfica in the European Cup Winners' Cup on Thursday.


The unsettled and embattled Italians, surrounded by ever increasing criticism from their fiery fans as well as the media, take a 2-0 lead into the home leg of the quarterfinal and will surely keep the Portuguese at arm's length.


Benfica's morale is also low, its confidence hardly helped by a 4-3 loss to Salgueiros in a Portuguese league match Sunday when its defense allowed in two goals in the last two minutes.


But if, as forecast, Fiorentina reaches the semifinals of a competition it won in the very first year of its existence in 1961, expect little enlightenment from the team. The players, including Argentine star striker Gabriel Batistuta, have retreated behind a wall of silence with a protest press blackout since late last year.


The club has underperformed more than anyone feared. It has lost its last two serie A matches, going down 2-0 to AC Milan on Saturday, and is 12th. The Cup Winners Cup may be its only route back into Europe.


Club owner and media magnate Vittorio Cecchi Gori, dissatisfied with the way his investment has performed, wrote an open letter to the team.


"If you let us down, then like betrayed lovers we will find it hard to pardon you," he wrote. "You are champions, there is no room for indifference or calculations."


The fans have turned against several players, notably Brazilian-born Belgian Luis Oliveira. Even Batistuta was the target for some abuse Sunday. Newspapers reported he stopped his car to remonstrate. "Why are you attacking me? I'm doing all I can for the team," the Argentine told the group of fans.


Oliveira looks doubtful with a twisted left ankle, but coach Claudio Ranieri has striker Francesco Baiano back and goalkeeper Francesco Toldo is recovering fast from a cold.


Midfielder Sandro Cois is suspended, while Russian winger Andrei Kanchelskis is cup-tied.


Baiano will partner Batistuta in attack. Anselmo Robbiati and Giovanni Piacentini will return to midfield alongside former Benfica team mates Stefan Schwarz of Sweden and Portuguese international Manuel Rui Costa.


Benfica has no reported injury problems.


Anatoly Davydov, 43, became the oldest player to appear in the Russian premier league when he turned out in this week's season opener for Zenit St. Petersburg.


He then went one better for the record books when his son Dmitry, 22, came on as a last-minute substitute in Monday's 1-0 win over Fakel Voronezh. It was the first time a father and son have played together in Russia's top division.